Monday, January 12, 2015

Day Eight-Hundred-Six: So it was a video game all along...?

Raymond McDowell, of Hamilton, Ontario, grew up loving video games. It had never, therefore, been a question of if he would work on video games as an adult, but when. He would simply make it happen, and that’s exactly what he did.

Raymond - better known to his friends online as ‘RayGunz’ - started with a small, peaceful little game called Village Life. The objective of Village Life was nice and simple: lead your village through the rigours of winter, micromanaging their actions to maximize survivability, until spring comes. The game was lauded as a mild success on the indie scene, with most players particularly enjoying Raymond’s avalanche animations.

Less popular was Raymond’s choice to take cannibalism out of the finished product. Nobody’s perfect.

Village Life caught the attention of a local gaming developer, and they pulled Raymond in for an interview. They found his personality to be bland yet intriguing, as his seeming dullness of wit belied his strong sense of creativity. After an intensive ten minute interview Raymond found himself with a job at a small, but determined, gaming studio. He could not have been happier.

Raymond was not the man to suggest the gaming company lift the idea of an open world castle simulator from another developer. He did, however, jump into the project with great gusto, as he thought the plan was altogether quite brilliant. He was also responsible for the final name of the game: Tales of Elsewhere, aka T.O.E.

T.O.E. proved a challenge for the developer. The plan was to take the original concept - create, staff, and defend a castle - and expand it exponentially, incorporating as many seemingly-disparate gaming genres as possible. This proved difficult to implement, and T.O.E. spent five tedious years in development, placed on the back burner several times while other, easier, more lucrative games got rolled out. Raymond’s focus on T.O.E. never shifted, however, and the game’s logo was ever on his desktop.

It was during one such period of downtime that Raymond received an idea from his wife. The crew of the Sky Bitch would rue that suggestion for several painful moments as their ship crashed to the ground.

Raymond was married to a healthy young woman named Sally-May. Contrary to what you may immediately think based on her name, Sally-May was not born in the extreme south. She did not grow up on a farm. Her kin did not strike it rich on oil and move to California. Sally-May was simply the product of parents who loved the countryside, and they planned to, one day, have a large estate on the edge of several wheat fields. The fact that neither parent knew a thing about farming didn’t seem to dissuade them from their dream at all.

Sally-May was a fervent supporter of Raymond’s ambitions to be a world-class developer. She also took a personal interest in his games, and often provided suggestions that wound up being implemented in his projects. For example, she suggested that the plants in T.O.E. work on more complex timers that changed throughout the seasons rather than shifting abruptly from one season to the next, and this made it into the final product. Most of her ideas were intelligent and well-thought-out.

The idea to make vast quantities of snow plummet from the sky during winter, similar to Raymond’s avalanches in Village Life, was not well-thought-out. It was, in fact, blurted from her lips after drinking too much tequila. Nevertheless, Raymond thought the idea was hilarious, and very much in step with his tongue-in-cheek philosophies. He made for a bland conversation, but Raymond enjoyed himself a solid joke.

It took a solid week of coding, adjusting, and problem solving to change T.O.E.’s seasonal shift from a mere palette swap to huge blankets of snow descending upon the land, simultaneously, at the official onset of winter. Raymond found the joke quite satisfactory, and his fellow developers agreed - though his boss forced Raymond to include an option to disable the falling snow, as it occasionally killed in-game characters. Raymond agreed.

Roughly half of T.O.E. players disabled the falling snow. The owner of Dragomir’s copy of T.O.E. did not.

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